China’s 70th Anniversary: A Dinner for Foreign Experts

Before getting on the bus, we paused for a picture outside of our university’s main building. Shown above are our fellow CFAU “foreign teachers” and Lynn, our Chinese university liaison (third from right)
Special Invitation to attend the Foreign Expert’s Dinner. Once at the hall, each invitation was scanned and our pictures were displayed to ensure we were the person’s using the invitations.

Along with some of our university colleagues, we were invited by our university to attend a special dinner for foreign experts who are living and working in China. We arrived in buses and, for our benefit, the entire highway was shut down on the way to the dinner, which was held at The Great Hall of the People adjacent to Tiananmen Square. Some 2,000 foreign experts were in attendance and treated to an amazing dinner and speech from Vice Premier Han Zheng. He praised foreign experts for assisting the country of China in reaching its current strength and status on the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party in China.

Standing on Tiananmen Square, waiting to enter The Great Hall of the People behind us.

At our table was a couple from the Ukraine, a woman from Mexico City, a man from the UK, a man from Russia, another American man, and two Chinese hosts. We had a delightful time getting to know them. Unfortunately, cameras and cell phones were not allowed in the hall. We did get pictures of our group at the university and outside the hall.

Incidentally, after the dinner the entire crowd exited the doors to the front of the hall, while I (Chuck) slipped into a restroom at the rear of the hall, behind some heavy curtains. I was there for just a few moments when an entourage of young men in business suits wearing ear buds entered the restroom with the Vice Premier himself. I was surprised and could only think to say, “Hi” to him. Afterwards I exited, holding open the curtain for him as we walked out together. I remember thinking, “Why are these security men allowing me to be so close to the Vice Premier.” Then I remembered the worried looks on their faces. Obviously, this bathroom break was unplanned and worrisome to those whose job it was to keep him safe. I caught them off-guard.

Recording Gigs

As native English speakers associated with a university, we were asked to record English dialogue (so far about eight hours’ worth). Apparently, the recordings will be used to test candidates who want to work for BMW to make sure their English is “up to snuff.” We had fun doing the recordings, and may do more . . if asked. It is difficult to cold-read a script, especially when the vocabulary gets into scientific terms. However, we did not have to do too much re-recording, as we soon became familiar with the process.

Bring on Bangkok

To top off our 17-day trip, we landed in Bangkok for a few days before coming back to Beijing. We stayed at Legacy Suites Hotel in the financial district of Bangkok at the recommendation of some friends who had stayed one night there. It was a beautiful, spacious hotel, but we discovered it was in the middle of a “red light district.” We did go away from the area for some fun experiences. We went to a cultural show one evening that was astounding in the way it was performed. Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed. We also toured the river and canals via long-boat.

Exploring Singapore

Prior to our cruising adventure, we spent a few days in Singapore. What a delightful place! We lucked out in our choice of hotels when we stayed at the Nostalgia Hotel, which was located on the edge of a residential area. Consequently, we had quick access to a community eatery that served delicious local cuisine. And the best part–it was only a few dollars per meal. Needless to say, we wandered over to the eatery several times per day.

Singapore has a very diverse population, very livable weather year-round, and very few natural disasters. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the local citizens we came across (at least in the area of our hotel) spoke a mixture of English, Cantonese, and Mandarin . . which happens to coincide exactly with my own current linguistic state. It felt like heaven.

Aboard the Star Clipper

The following are excerpts from an email we sent to fellow China teachers, Brigg and Janet Steele. They are considering a sailing cruise and wanted to know what we thought. Check out the pics below too.

Snorkeling at Pink Sand Beach in Indonesia. The Star Clipper is in the background.

Hi Brigg and Janet,

As promised, I’m going to give a little de-brief of our cruise. I’m doing this also for my own benefit to gather my thoughts about the experience.

The first day, our cruise officer told us to take everything we know about cruising and throw it out the window. He said, “think of this as a sailing adventure, not a cruise.” And he was correct. There were no casinos, professional entertainers, on-board high-end shops, etc. We’ve been on cruises that felt like we were simply riding in a floating shopping mall. This was quite different.

The Ship: Our ship was the Star Clipper, built in 1992. It was approx.. 366 feet long, weighing almost 2,300 tons. It is a four-masted, six-sailed ship. The passenger list was only 152 people, with 78 crew members. On board was a good-sized dining hall, small shop for incidentals, library, tropical bar, piano bar, three small “cooling off” pools, and plenty of deck space. The cabins were similar to what we’ve experienced on other cruise ships—smallish yet comfortable and well-maintained. Our cabin’s port-hole was at water level, which was a bit freaky at first, but we discovered we loved being so close to the water. In fact, the whole experience was one in which you feel closer to the ocean than you would on a large cruise ship. We fell in love with that. Yes, with a smaller vessel you feel the constant rocking  of the waves, but we didn’t have any trouble. We did notice other passengers with motion sickness patches behind their ears. To us, the constant motion felt more like a soothing, “rock you to sleep” experience. We had some great food in the dining hall, and it was nutritious and healthy besides. We didn’t feel “yucky” at all after 7 days. It was wonderful. One very telling thing: of the 152 passengers, 54 were repeat customers!

The Crew: The relationship with captain and crew was significantly different as a passenger on the Star Clipper vs. large cruise ships. We were encouraged to come to the bridge any time and see how to navigate, help crew members hoist sails, and ask questions of the officers. One officer did a daily briefing with very interesting stories about sailing and information about the area we were sailing. We felt we were participating in an ancient form of transportation, and gained an appreciation for their skill.

The Voyage: Our 7 nights included just one full day at sea. The other days involved time on various small islands, most often un-inhabited islands. We started at Benoa Port in Bali, sailed east around the big islands of Lombok, Sumbawa in the archipelago and included Komodo Island as our most easterly island. Most of the excursions on this easterly route were simply hiking, sightseeing, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, small sail-boating, etc. as the ship would pull up near a small island and we would be tendered out to the beach, requiring a “wet landing” from off the tender. We saw some of the most beautiful sites and had a wonderful time on our excursions. We were able to see Komodo Dragons while being protected by armed rangers (they are deadly). We parked in the waters a mile from a belching volcano and witnessed the most active volcanic zone in the world. When the cruise goes West, the excursions are more the type you see from other cruise ships, where you pay local companies for tours. But on the route we took, it was less about the paid excursions and more about simply enjoying yourself on the islands on your own. The ship provided all the equipment for some fun activities.

The Experience: Our eyes were certainly opened to this kind of cruising, and we feel like most the other passengers onboard—we want to do it again. In fact, we’re going to keep our eyes open for this same ship or same cruise line sailing around the islands of Thailand. A ship this size meant much less dealing with large numbers of fellow passengers and other cruise ship passengers. We saw sights that would have been impossible to see from a large cruise ship. The ship was small enough to provide these opportunities while large enough to make the experience fun while onboard as well. This kind of cruising is more about experiencing the sea and less about having all of life’s distractions at your finger-tips. We highly recommend it!

What questions do you have? We will see you soon!

Here’s there official website: https://www.starclippers.com/us-dom

Monkey Business

The hotel description said, “3 minute walk to the Monkey Forest.” We thought it would be a great chance to see wildlife in Bali while we stayed a few days prior to our cruise. Little did we know just how up-close and personal our experiences with monkeys would be.

We might have gotten a clue when our hostess, showing us the villa accommodations, pointed out the sling-shot provided to each room. These were for our convenience to chase any monkeys away from our villa. It soon became obvious that monkeys do not read signs to know where the monkey habitat begins and ends.

Someone forgot to tell the monkeys to stay in the monkey habitat located literally a stone’s throw from the Bali Bohemia villas where we were staying.
Our first breakfast after arriving. That’s Brandi on the left, Rob in the middle and Laraine on the right. This was taken just minutes before we were served breakfast and Brandi looked up to see a giant monkey stealing her pancake. It happened so fast, most of us would not have known what happened except that Laraine let out a big scream.
Restaurant workers put offerings out to the “gods,” but are actually picked through and eaten by the monkeys.

At one point, we were visiting a Hindu temple and saw a monkey walking around with a very expensive pair of sunglasses. This put us all on edge as we quickly removed our glasses and put them away. However, Rob later decided he wanted to see something and put on his glasses. Very quickly, a monkey jumped up on his shoulder and grabbed the glasses off of his face. He managed to grab them, however, leaving the monkey with just the rubber covering that protected Rob’s ear from the wire piece. The monkey sat there chewing on this rubber piece. Rob was glad he still had his glasses for the remainder of the trip.

One day we walked about 15 minutes around the fenced perimeter of the monkey forest to a grocery store. Seeing a rotisserie chicken for sale at the store, we decided to buy it and bring it back to our room. What were we thinking? A local, sitting on the sidewalk, looked at us and said, “That will not work.” He was absolutely correct. There was no way we were going to get that chicken past the monkeys to our room, so we bundled it up in a canvas backpack and hoped the monkeys couldn’t smell it. As we entered the monkey area, two monkeys were on a tree limb directly above us, watching us carefully. Somehow we got it past them and all the way to our room.

Balinese Family and Faith

Prior to our 7-day sailing cruise, we decided to spend three days in Bali itself. We are so glad we did. Not only did we see some amazing sights, we also learned something about the strength of family and faith. It was a lesson we’ll never forget.

Laraine sitting with the parents of our Bali driver in their “grandparents” pavilion.

While Indonesia as a whole is largely Muslim, the people of Bali are largely Hindu (83%). We arrived at Bali’s Denpasar airport late at night and saw no hint of the magic that awaited us. Our driver drove through non-descript streets for over an hour before arriving at a narrow, unlit alleyway in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. We exchanged some worried glances at each other, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. After all, we had not relied on any recommendations to choose our hotel . . only those on Hotels.com.

We needn’t have worried. No, we were not at a major hotel, but we did manage to snag the coziest slice of paradise on Bali. The 11-room Bali Bohemian turned out to be a destination unto itself. The friendly night hostess greeted us with smiles, a cool mint drink, and no urgency to run our credit card or even discuss money. “Let’s just worry about that tomorrow when you’re rested,” she said. Who DOES that? We were very impressed.

The view from our veranda

She walked us around a beautifully lit pool into our villa, an eclectic and authentic Bali experience. As she showed us around, one of the most notable items in our room was a sling-shot. She explained that it was because of the monkeys. If we should ever need the sling-shot, we could simply point it at a monkey and pretend it was loaded. The monkey would scamper off. I smiled, thinking this was a quaint “gimmick” to impress visiting tourists.

The next day, we learned how practical those sling-shots were. The online listing for the villa mentioned a nearby “Monkey Forest” that was within walking distance. In reality, the monkey forest was literally adjacent to our villa and we also learned that monkeys do not care about signs or fences. They were an amusing and sometimes exciting punctuation to our trip.

Our time in Bali was dreamy, to say the least. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting various temples, waterfalls, woodcrafting shops, painting shops, jewelry shops, coffee plantations, and much more. Everywhere we went in residential areas, we noticed very ornate architecture and decorative elements. One day, our driver/guide was driving in an area and said, “I live right over there.” We were impressed with this driver and his gentle spirit. He then asked if we would like to come see his home. We jumped at the chance.

Laraine managed to buy a dress for our driver’s new baby, once he told us that he had a new daughter. We are preparing to enter this Balinese home and look around.
Restaurant staff take a moment to worship in the evening

Every home in Bali consists of a walled compound in which ornate pavilions are carefully placed. The way these structures are laid out is determined by culture and religious conviction. Each home has a pavilion for the grandparents, a sleeping pavilion, a kitchen pavilion and some kind of ceremonial hall. In addition, each home has its own temple. These properties are not simple; they’re extravagant and well-maintained.

Our driver and guide, “Katoot,” with Brandi, Chuck, Laraine and Rob. The family runs a small coconut shop facing the street just outside their home. Coconut water is great on a hot day.

Multiple generations occupy the same property and the strength that comes from participating in daily religious rituals and having strong family support is obvious in Balinese society. Balinese people who are blessed to enjoy these strengths are largely protected from the difficulties we’ve seen in other Asian and western countries. We felt humbled and blessed to have witnessed this strength in action. The abundance felt by all family members seemed much higher than one would expect in a country with meager incomes.

The experience reminded us how faith and family can work together to bring greater abundance and prosperity.     

Inside a Balinese family compound. Absolutely beautiful. Above is the entrance to their family temple and inside the family shrine (temple) area. Rob Kraese is impressed too.

Land Ho!!

Our 7-day sailing adventure in Indonesia included a Monday at sea. What do you do when you’re stuck on a sailing ship for a full day? You climb the mast, of course!

The climb up begins on the edge of the ship. Crew members strap on a harness. This is Brandi’s Rob Kraese getting ready to climb.
Chuck following Brandi up the ropes to the crow’s nest.
Laraine reaches the crow’s nest!
Chuck and Rob share a moment up high. This was a victory for Chuck, who has trouble with heights. Rob, on the other hand, is a New York lineman and has climbed many a tower.